For nearly two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog and Tor.com, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best new science fiction and fantasy releases.
Behind the Throne, by K.B. Wagers (August 2, Orbit—Paperback)
The first entry in the Indranan War series introduces Hail Bristol, one of the galaxy’s most-wanted smuggler and, coincidentally, third in line to the throne. Or at least she was—until her older sisters were murdered. Now her mother, the Empress, wants Hail home to take up the mantle of heir, and has sent two Trackers to bring her in. Hail wants nothing to do with governing—but she is desperate to avenge her sisters’ deaths. Her investigation reveals political intrigue, the threat of her mother’s failing mind, and the possibility that her father was murdered by the same assassin years before—leaving her with no one to trust but the Trackers on her tail. Action-packed and ripe with political intrigue, Wagers’ debut is twisted and fast-paced, set in a world well stocked with complex politics and complicated characters worth caring about.
Blood of the Earth, by Faith Hunter (August 2, Roc—Paperback)
Fans of Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series will be pleased to see her expanding that universe with the first book in the Soulwood series. Yellowrock meets Nell Ingram, a woman cast out from the cult that raised her, who instinctively uses magic to defend herself. Yellowrock sends PsyLED, the government agency policing paranormals, to Nell’s door, and Nell soons finds herself assisting in an investigation that leads to the Blood Master of Philadelphia—and ultimately, back to the cult that she so recently escaped, a fact that forces her to face her greatest fears. Hunter’s fans will soon be just as excited to follow Ingram’s journey as they are their beloved Jane.
Paperback $11.94 | $13.00
Lord of the Darkwood (Tale of Shikanoko, Book 3), by Lian Hearn (August 9, Farrar, Straus and Giroux—Paperback)
The third entry in Hearn’s fabulous all-books-in-one-year quartet finds her characters scattered and struggling with torments of their own making as the story takes a step back from the breakneck pace of the first two volumes. Shika, mourning the death of the Autumn Princess, is in hiding, still unable to remove the magical deer mask given to him by his mentor. Yoshi, the hidden true emperor, is traveling in secret, and fears the moment when he will be asked to claim his throne. As the political intrigue thickens, the magical beings and spells multiply, and Hearn does a phenomenal job of complicating her story even as her characters pause to catch their breath. All in all, it’s an ideal middle volume that promises an explosive climax in the final book, due in September.
Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff (August 9, St. Martin’s Press—Hardcover)
On a world orbiting three suns that bathe the surface in almost continuous daylight, Mia Corvere lives in shame, the daughter of a man who mounted a failed rebellion and paid for it with his life. In the wake of the tragedy, Mia found her way to Mercurio, who trained her in the arts of assassination in preparation for her mission of revenge. Now, she’s joined the Red Church, the deadliest assassins on the planet, training with the other acolytes in the hopes of becoming one of four chosen Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder. But someone is killing her compatriots, and their goals seem to go far beyond simple murder. It’s the first in a new series from Kristoff, offering an unrelenting mixture of intense action and creative world-building, with writing that treads into dark territory, despite the teenage protagonist.
The Hike, by Drew Magary (August 2, Viking—Hardcover)
The promise that a book is structured similarly to a video game might raise eyebrows, but Magary uses the conceit to incredibly powerful effect in this tale of an everyman named Ben who goes on a hike in rural Pennsylvania and is sucked into a bizarre alternate dimension (that’s one possible explanation, anyway) in which his adventures start off unsettling and get stranger from there. Giants, dwarves, talking crabs, and other oddities assault him at every turn as he contemplates his past and personal demons as he struggles to get back to his family through a gauntlet of bizarre creatures and foreign locales—leading inexorably toward wonderfully twisty ending that redefines everything that came before.
The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville (August 9, Del Rey—Hardcover)
A new Miéville book is always cause for celebration, and The Last Days of New Paris promises—and delivers—sensationally imaginative world-building on par with his best work. Set in a Paris still dealing with Nazi invaders in 1950, some years after the detonation of a “surrealist bomb” that brought the imagery in surrealist paintings to horrific life, Miéville’s latest paints a picture of an alternate history both beautiful and disturbing. Some of the surrealist creatures—known as Manifs—are harmless, but many are decidedly not, and the Nazis have begun summoning demons from hell in an attempt to tame or conquer them. Thibault works on the side of the surrealists, fighting Nazis and demons, and encounters a woman named Sam who professes to be in New Paris to photograph the Manifs. But Thibault soon comes to realize Sam is not what she seems, and neither are her stated goals. A knowledge of surrealism is helpful, but not essential, to your reading of this challenging, inventive novella.
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin (August 16, Orbit Books—Paperback)
With the second entry in the Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin once again demonstrates why she’s one of the most exciting voices in SFF. The Orogene Essun has found a temporary home in the underground community of Meov, but she still longs for her daughter Nassun, stolen by Essun’s husband, who has taken her to a remote outpost in an attempt to “cure her of the orogenic powers that allow her to shape and control the geological forces of the chaotic Stillness. But even as Essun is caught up her old mentor Alabaster’s plan to cure the Stillness of its chaotic and destructive Seasons, we have a chance to see the world through Nassun’s eyes, a shift in perspective that redefines what we think we know about our difficult, flawed, achingly real protagonist. Jemisin’s skill at crafting incredible characters is matched only by her world-building, which is truly second-to-none. We called The Fifth Season and epic fantasy with no epic fantasy tropes, and the sequel is every bit as stunning and original.
The Swarm, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (August 2, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Fans of Card’s legendary Ender’s Game universe should snap up this first volume in a new prequel trilogy, picking up directly where the First Formic War books left off. That series outlined the defeat of a Formic invasion due not so much to human might as the fact that the Formic forces were part of a simple scouting mission seeking to replace the fauna and flora of Earth with Formic-friendly varieties. Now, the mothership is orbiting just beyond the Kuiper Belt, planning the real onslaught. Most of the cast from the first prequel series returns to fight against bureaucracy, totalitarianism, and brutal military training techniques as Card and Johnston patiently sketch out portraits of a finely detailed, solar system-wide new order, and the looming threat longtime fans know is truly epic in nature.
Ghosts of War, by Bennett R. Coles (August 2, Titan Books—Paperback)
Coles follows up last year’sVirtues of War with a complex and exciting military sci-fi adventure that picks up after a Terran victory. Victory doesn’t necessarily mean the war is over, however; tactics have simply changed. An embedded agent on Earth hacks into the military’s most sensitive files, setting up a crisis that once again puts Lieutenant Commander Thomas Kane, Lieutenant Katja Emmes, and Sublieutenant Jack Mallory on the front lines. Coles explores not just the shiny future military tech aspects of the story, but also the lingering effects of the first book’s harrowing events on the psyches of the three protagonists. The result aims to please both hardcore MilSF fans and anyone seeking an action-packed story that doesn’t treat its characters as afterthoughts.
The Forgetting Moon, by Brian Lee Durfee (August 30, Saga Press—Hardcover)
The first entry in Durfee’s Five Warrior Angels series offers a vivid world to explore through the eyes of a vibrant collection of characters. Gault is an elite knight at the vanguard of the invading host of Sør Sevier, seeking to conquer the last holdout kingdom of Gul Kana—but Gault is becoming disillusioned with the violent crusade. The King of Gul Kana sinks into paranoia and isolation while his sisters, the beautiful Jonadralyn and the young Tala, embark on their own quests—including the discovery of a secret that might destroy their kingdom. Durfee pays homage to hard-hitting, heavy-metal fantasies of the ’80s, but layers in multidimensional characters into plot that slowly shifts your perception and assumptions until the whole thing has twisted right under your nose. It’s an exceptionally promising beginning to a new series.
Kojiki, by Keith Yatsuhashi (August 2, Angry Robot—Paperback)
With Kojiki, Yatsuhashi delivers a beautiful story infused with Japanese culture, beginning slowly and ramping up to an apocalyptic battle for the ages. When 18-year old Keiko Yamada’s father dies, he leaves her a mysterious poem concerning ancient spirits, and instructions to “take his place.” In Japan, Keiko learns that said spirits have returned due to The Weakening, a moment that will allow the oldest and most powerful among them—a spirit who went mad long ago, who wishes to destroy the world—to return and wreak havoc on our realm. Keiko meets Yui Akiko, the youngest of the spirits, and the two must prepare to fight for the survival of…everyone. With chapters that shift between the points-of-view of a wide base of characters, Yatsuhashi’s debut creates a dense, detailed universe that will be a delight for readers familiar with Japanese culture and myths—and a revelation for those who aren’t.
Breath of Earth, by Beth Cato (August 23, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Cato new book is both a steampunk wonder and an alternate history that imagines 1906 San Francisco under the protection of a council of geomancers known as Earth Wardens, who absorb earthquake energy and transform it into a crystal known as kermanite, and the United States has partnered with Japan in the United Pacific Alliance, specifically targeting China. When all of the Wardens are killed in a mysterious explosion, the only person left in San Francisco with the potential power to protect it is Ingrid Carmichael, the mixed-race daughter of a Warden and, secretly, the first woman born with the power of a geomancer. Cato explores issues of race and gender in a deft and effective way as Ingrid, forbidden from practicing magic due to her dark skin and her status as a woman, must turn to an influx of Chinese refugees for assistance as she struggles to figure out what’s happening—and how to save her beloved city from destruction.
Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal (August 16, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Kowal retains her crown as one of the most imaginative SFF writers working today with a thoughtful new book that imagines the “Spirit Corps” of the British Military of 1916. Led by American Ginger Stuyvesant, the Corps communicates with recently dead soldiers on the killing fields of Europe in order to glean vital intelligence. When Ginger’s fiancé, Captain Ben Harford, tips her off concerning a German plot to destroy the Corps, she has to use the its powers, as well as a series of unlikely but effective allies, to protect it. Kowal brings her keen eye for historical detail and an impeccable sense of plotting to bear on a smart, exciting story that combines an accurately rendered World War I setting with occult flourishes.
Spiderlight, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (August 2, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Best-known for his remarkable, innovative, and expansive 10-book Shadows of the Apt series, which crafted an epic fantasy landscape modeled on the real-world characteristics of various types of insects, Tchaikovsky delivers this smart, standalone fantasy, which jumps off from what could be viewed as a clichéd and overdone premise: a standard-issue role-playing party (thief, ranger, wizard, cleric, etc.) following the complicated strictures of a prophecy in order to defeat a dark lord—a prophecy that involves stealing a fang from the Spider Queen and forcing her to lead them to his lair. But Tchaikovsky then pivots to introduce the true protagonist: a spider with an unpronounceable name who is transformed into human form to be the party’s guide. From there, the author brilliantly subverts, inverts, and toys with the common tropes of fantasy literature. The end result is one of the most unique and interesting new fantasies of the year.